The Benedictine monk David Stendl-Rast once said the opposite of exhaustion is not rest, it’s wholeheartedness.  It is exhausting to be involved with something you are not fully committed to or invested in, that does not enable you to feel engaged, present and alive.  As the poet David Whyte reminds us:  anyone or anything that does not bring us to life, is too small for us. 

A wonderful way to address these issues involves asking the following evocative questions: What do I feel wholehearted about?  What brings me to life?  Where in my life do I feel most alive?

I’ll start.

My work requires use of my emotional awareness, spiritual imagination, intellect and bodily experience.  It summons my entire being. I feel wholehearted about my work, and grateful for the opportunity to do what I do. It brings me to life and makes me feel more alive.

I feel alive in relationship with those I care about, whose conversation and presence enables me to inhabit myself more fully, and to glimpse a whole greater than the sum of all parts.  I feel alive in nature, at the ocean or in a forest, or a beautiful urban park in the middle of New York City, where I work and live.  I feel alive experiencing works of art; musical works like Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue or Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues.  Or watching a favorite movie, Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria or Bergmann’s Fanny and Alexander.  Or reading a favorite poet like Neruda (“And it was at that age poetry arrived in search of me….”).  My spiritual practice of meditation, prayer and study makes all the difference, informing everything I do, everything I am.  

To be wholehearted.  To feel alive.  It transforms how we experience ourselves and our lives. Often, we expend a lot of energy making ourselves small, whittling our lives down to manageable bite size pieces.  We seem fearful of too much aliveness, too much wholeheartedness. 

When do you feel wholehearted?  What brings you to life?  Where do you feel truly alive in your life? And where do you feel stale, uninspired or disengaged?  What are the ways, both large and small, you inhibit or prevent yourself from living the life you say you want?  

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Neal Aponte

Neal Aponte is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience providing psychotherapy for adults, adolescents and children. Read more here.